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Why I’m in favour of the TV licence

Man watching TV

The Adam Smith Institute recently called for the BBC licence fee to be scrapped. But it’s incredible value and without it the BBC wouldn’t produce the same range of high-quality programmes.

You can’t buy much for 39p. Yet that’s all the licence fee costs each day. And for that you get access to a whole world of entertainment, with two TV stations, five national radio stations, plus local services and even more available digitally and online.

Yet some people still object to paying even this tiny amount. Their argument seems to be ‘why should we have to pay for something that we might not use?’

Read Mike Briggs argue this view in his Conversation ‘Why I want the TV licence to go.’

An unfair tax?

The reality is that we accept the principle of paying for stuff we don’t use every day. I don’t have children but have to pay for schools and teachers, for example.

Libraries, museums and galleries are all financed from public funds (albeit through general taxation) and it’s accepted that we benefit from their presence, irrespective of how often we visit them. And TV and radio plays a more prominent role in our lives than any of these institutions.

And unlike in these examples, you do have a choice – you don’t have to buy a TV licence. You can even watch TV by going online (probably using the BBC’s excellent iPlayer service).

Opponents of the licence fee argue that the BBC should be self funding. Yet output from its rivals shows the limitations of commercial TV. The guaranteed income from the Licence fee allows the BBC to produce shows to suit every taste and to invest in high quality programmes. Could you seriously imagine a commercial station spending five years, and £16m, creating Planet Earth?

The dire alternative

In contrast, the commercial stations have dumbed down outrageously as they chase ratings and slash costs with reality programmes, Z-list celebrities and American reruns.

And that’s before you consider the annoyance of adverts. Oh, and if you find ads a pain, get ready for product placement in programmes, which the commercial channels are desperate to introduce in 2011.

When you consider all this, is it really any surprise that eight of the ten greatest British TV programmes (as chosen by the BFI) were shown on the BBC?

Replacing the licence fee with a subscription model wouldn’t work either. Unless it was set at an extremely high level (thereby excluding all but the wealthiest) it wouldn’t generate enough revenue, so programme quality would fall.

An independent, trusted voice

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of shows on the BBC that I could live without. But the BBC isn’t run for my benefit, its for us all. And we’re tuning in – 97% of the population uses BBC services each week.

We trust it too. Polls show that over 50% favour the BBC’s political reporting over any other source (Sky came second with a measly 7%).

That’s not to say the licence fee is perfect (the limited concessions are totally insufficient), but it’s something that needs tweaking, not replacing. Without it, British TV, one of the few institutions that we can still be proud of, would wither away. And I, for one, am happy to pay 39p a day to prevent that happening.

Read the other side of the story in Mike Brigg’s ‘Why I want the TV licence to go’ here.

What do you think about the BBC TV licence fee?

I agree with Jon and think it's worth the price (58%, 156 Votes)

I agree with Mike and think it should be optional (42%, 112 Votes)

Total Voters: 268

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Sophie Gilbert says:
14 September 2010

I’d pay twice or even three times as much to get rid of all the ads on TV!!! The crass interrupting of a film by adverts can ruin the pleasure of watching it. I do have the means to record a film and then edit the ads out, but sometimes seconds of a dialogue are missing! This doesn’t happen when the film is shown on BBC.

And if you know what TV (or radio) is like in the rest of the world you are grateful and proud of the BBC and want to preserve it at all costs. 39p a day? So be it.

As far as I’m concerned – I’m in favour of keeping the Licence fee – The quality of the majority of the programmes on BBC TV and Radio is superb – including those of the world service and foreign language broadcasts – All of this vast range have to be paid for somehow.

There are far too many US programmes – more UK shows should be produced.

My only real criticism is the vast increase in bad language in recent times – totally unnecessary. I watch and listen to be educated or entertained – not shocked. Too many comedians now swear presumably as they cannot tell jokes properly – so I no longer watch or listen to them..

The licence fee is essential in order to provide ANY radio (worth having) at all. I have argued this point on Mike’s board.
On top of this I agree totally with the two comments above.
I can count on the fingers of one hand how many programmes I have actually watched on ANY channel other than BBC1 or BBC 2 in the last year (and I do have Freeview but there’s very little except BBC 4 on that which has any content of any interest to me).
The main reasons that I won’t watch the other channels are1) there is virtually nothing that interests me and 2) when I do find something (e.g. on C4) that’s worth seeing, the adverts drive me utterly crazy.
My old VCR had “commercial advance” – so that I could record programmes on there and watch the tape with all commercials being automatically skipped, but as far as I can see DVD recorders and hard disk recorders don’t seem to have this feature – I expect the advertisers objected and forced the abandonment of the system. So, the licence fee MUST be retained to ensure Radio wirth having and commercial free TV of any quality at all.

In other news the BBC Trust has proposed freezing the current cost of the TV licence for the next two years. Sounds like a good idea to me… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-11325325

Rebecca says:
16 September 2010

I don’t agree with the TV license at all. We have put too much power (and money) on BBC’s hands. Just remember every now and then there is a news about how much they paid to make somebody redundant, and they are talking about xxx,xxx! They live on public money but operate like a private firm with no control.

I watch news online via other channels like Yahoo, Google or Reuters which cover more news of the same story, and thus more objective. BBC very often reports only one aspect of it (or their perspectives primarily), and a lot of people nowadays realise they are not objective any more. This is a shame because BBC used to be the pride of the country. In some circles, BBC is actually called British Bias Corporation. I even think that they are partly to blame for what we are today. Their reports of the world and events around us have made Brits live in their perceived world rather than the real one. We trust this national broadcaster so much that we don’t cast any doubts any more.

To give license fee to one broadcaster only is unfair to other broadcasters who have to struggle to find money to make ends meet.

We should pay only when it can be proved that it’s adding value to the country, not because of a historical reason, and definitely not because it’s BBC.

Ronald says:
16 September 2010

I think I can agree that they survive on taxpayers money, but are slightly out of control.

When you transpose what we pay in licence fee per year to a rate per week, it demonstrates what fantastic value it is. For the price of a pint of beer (ish) per week we are guaranteed no adverts, and top quality television and radio programmes. I think we should pay more, to ensure that the BBC can produce even more wonderful programmes.

marivah says:
17 September 2010

The alternatives are to have a subscription service like Sky, where you are forced to have a package,most of which you will never watch, in order to watch the channels you want. Even then, you are subjected to adverts, a lot of which are incomprehensible, (e.g. cars climbing walls).
If, as we must at some stage, we buy any of the products advertised, we are in effect paying twice to view.

geordieinexile says:
17 September 2010

What we, the viewers, get from the BBC is very good value for money. Yes, they have paid excessive salaries to some people and yes, they have shown bias for some time. If they correct those failings then it will become even better value. The BBC is absolutely unique. All other broadcasting companies are variations on a theme. Let us keep our very British BBC

When comparing the BBC TV offering with other networks in the world, I cannot help but be thankful for the quality we can enjoy at such a low price. No other nation enjoys what we can. Please do not’fix’ what works so well. Other nations envy the super value and quality that we sometimes take for granted.

R Axford (Hull) says:
17 September 2010

I watch tv, most days. I listen to lots of radio, daily. I log onto the BBC website 2-3 times daily. And I use iplayer regularly. All this for the licence fee. When people moan about the cost they forget all about the ADDITIONAL cost of funding the commercial TV stations, whether you watch them or not and which don’t include the extras by and large. Checking out the ITV and C4 accounts for 2009 and grossing up their figures nationally shows a revenue income from advertising per household of £120-130 pa. That is money we pay out when we purchase advertised goods and seervices, without anyone ever complaining about it. And that is before we start adding in all the commercial radio stations and other media. The BBC fee is fantastic value for money, and is not hidden away.

David Fuller says:
17 September 2010

It’s a tragedy that we’re having this conversation, because without the BBC we will all be subject to
”The world according to Murdoch”. The Murdoch empire would dominate absolutely. With the proliferation of TV channels, advertising revenue has become so thinly spread that the main terrestrial channels have suffered huge losses in revenue, individually, and BskyB, having ‘hoovered-up’ most of sport and movies, have surely become too dominant. The Murdochs now want to emaciate the BBC, as it is now their only serious competition. Get rid of the licence fee, and we will end up with subcription channels with adverts as the only way to see half decent programmes and we will have to suffer ‘FOX-News’style reporting. Not for me thank-you. The worrying reality of all this is that I have already heard people complain that they shouldn’t have to pay for a TV licence as they are already paying so much for Sky and they ‘never watch BBC’!
We do really need to wake up and think what life would be like without ‘Auntie’

I’ve just jumped over from my board to butt in . . . I think it’s fantastic so many people would gladly pay for the BBC. It proves, as I thought, that the BBC would have a rosey future without the compulsory licence. A leaner, streamlined BBC free from pressure of chasing ratings could concentrate on its core market of viewers who demand quality (such as everyone on this page).

Sky is a red herring and simple enough to avoid

Sorry Mike Briggs I think you are wrong. It is the license fee that makes the BBC such good value with all the Radio and TV channels – without pressure to raise extra revenue to compete with other broadcasters.

Sky is certainly NOT a red – herring – It exists to compete with the BBC – so money that the BBC HAS to pay for certain broadcasts – there are bidding wars remember – this is in direct competition with Sky. and the BBC needs all the money it gets to produce a well balanced broadcasting service rightly renowned across the world.

Beekeeper IW says:
17 September 2010

I think the licence fee is exceptional value, and the majority of BBC output, both TV and Radio are excellent. However I do think there should be more pressure put onto the BBC to reduce costs by controlling all salaries to a much more reasonable level, and to drastically reduce their expenses.

Simon Weatherall says:
17 September 2010

I don’t watch TV at all not terrestrial or sky/virgin. I haven’t watched the BBC, ITV C4 or C5 for years there is never anything I actually want to watch on. I am a gamer and in order to use my TV for playing videogames I have to pay for a TV licence. Its a joke, why should I pay for a service that I would never use. Only people who are probably saying its worth it are Eastenders viewers. BBC should do what every other channel does, fund via adverts, or are they too worried that they will be bankrupt in 12 months because of the rubbish they keep putting on TV.

Sheila P says:
17 September 2010

My sentiments are the same as Sophies we watch far more BBC programmes than commercial, I always record commercial channels should there be something I wish to see then fast forward the adverts. I am so pleased the Beeb has got Formula 1 and Moto GP hurragh no more adverts and broken races.

The morons who fail to appreciate the value (in every sense of the word) that the BBC provides are sufficient proof, for me, that the compulsory licence fee should remain in place as a means of funding it. Any other model, such as an optional subscription, would have to be significantly raised above the level of the current licence fee to offset the loss of revenues from those who would choose not to pay. And yet, those who chose not to pay would still be able to watch the BBC for free via services like iPlayer – unless, of course, access to that was wrapped into the paid subscription.

But, what astonishes me is that, now I live in Amsterdam, I can still receive BBC 1, 2, 3 and 4 via our cable service, which we pay for of course, but I’ve been unable to ascertain if any of what we pay actually goes to the BBC! If it doesn’t, that’s scandalous. I’d happily still pay for a TV licence to support the BBC, but without a UK address, apparently that’s just not possible. And there’s no other way I’m aware of to pay money to the BBC. Charitable donation, perhaps?

It would be a travesty of unparalleled proportions if the BBC were to lose its unique position in global broadcasting, by dumbing down the system of funding just to kowtow to the attention-span lacking couch-potato morons who so stupidly fail to recognise that commercial TV is NOT free! Where do they think the money comes from? From the companies who make the products that are advertised, of course. And where do those companies get the money? From the sale of their products to these same viewers of the commercial channels. Products whose prices are raised to cover the cost of advertising them! Durrrrr….. it’s a moronic system of funding for a moronic audience.

If we had more sense, as a society, we’d have found a way to dispose of TV advertising (and much of the rest too, while we’re at it). It’s a totally unproductive industry. The only people who really profit are the advertising agencies and the people they employ (directors, actors, models etc) to produce the ads. The rest of society is simply subsidising the often glamorous lifestyles of all the pople who work in the advertising industry. If the continued existence of the BBC were only to represent an alternative to this huge social wastage, that alone would be more than enough reason for it to continue!

Finally, I would say that it is way past time that the government did abolish the TV licence (say what? huh? please read on!) – and pay for the BBC out of general taxation, the same way it pays for everything else it funds. It’s ludicrous to incur the additional costs of running a separate service to collect the TV licence fee, which is also subject to evasion that will become even harder to avoid as services move away from the conventional broadcasting model to one that is more about on-demand viewing of online streaming content. But whatever is done, we must ensure that the BBC continues to be a paragon of broadcasting excellence – and it would be nice if, as such, it would stop chasing ratings by including ‘popular’ rubbish such as Eastenders and Strictly Come Dancing in its schedules and focus on more quality drama, documentaries and other content worthy of the standards the BBC maintains.

Eva Simmons says:
17 September 2010

If everything goes commercial (i.e. paid for by adverts and not the licence fee) we will get in Britain the same kind of TV you get in America. Anyone who has spent time in America will know what I mean. Who needs it? BBC TV has the marvellous things on it – although for me the radio programmes alone are worth the licence fee. If it ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it.

jusinryoutaose says:
31 January 2013

Or, if it’s aged between 8 and 16, watch the door while Jimmy fixes it for you.

The issue is not whether some people think it’s value for money. The issue isn’t really about the aforementioned licence-fee sponsored paedophile, or all the other cupboards chocka-block with skeletons of varying grotesqueness (although these are certainly relevant).

People who support the licence in the main love the BBC, have always owned a telly, and therefore probably know very little about the way the system is enforced and the impact it has on Britain’s most socially, economically and mentally vulnerable people. They probably don’t know for example that the enforcement agents don’t work for the BBC but for a private company, and receive a commission for every frightened old lady they bully into subscribing, and every single mother they put in the dock. They probably also don’t know that these people don’t have any more legal standing than a double-glazing salesman.

Americans do have to put up with adverts. They even have to put up with them during episodes of Groundforce and Changing Rooms on BBC America, but at least they don’t have to pay to make the programmes. The British public does that for them, just like we do for the ones the Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians watch. (New Zealand and Australia abolished their licence fees, the former after a successful campaign of civil disobedience. The Australian public never had to pay for Neighbours, by the way, as it was broadcast on one of their commercial networks.)

Arguments against the licence fee tend to run on for pages, encompassing issues including but by no means limited to conflicted interests, the evils of monopoly, the concept of a poll tax, human rights and disenfranchisement of the citizenry, with concrete examples of abuse, corruption and scandal in support of all points.

Arguments for the licence fee tend to be shorter, and remind us that lots of people like the Archers, Rupert Murdoch is a capitalist, and ‘we’ ‘need’ ‘quality television’ (with obvious significance to the separate air quotes). Even the politicians don’t seem to have much more to say in favour of it, but then again when you’re on 60 grand and up a year plus expenses, 39p a day really isn’t that much.

I willingly pay my license fee, and I also pay for Sky, but with Sky, even though I pay, I still get bombarded with adverts – more than on ITV or C4 . Even with Sky PPV , they still manage to ruin sports events with adverts. So for this reason alone, and there are many more, I would vote to keep the license fee. BBC programs are also better on the whole.

If we have to pay a fee for advert-free tv, why do the BBC make programs so the adverts can be slotted in like Countryfile where they keep telling you what you are about to watch and what you watched a few minutes ago.

Well said, Alfa. Things haven’t improved over the years, have they?

Advert free??? The BBC constantly advertise their own programs – well they do on my TV!

When it comes to News however, I prefer to view other world channels news broadcasts also for a comprehensive version of events to capture occurrences at global level and its interesting to discern how events in this country are perceived by the rest of the world.

If we could see ourselves as others see us

Robert Burns

I don’t mind the BBC advertising their own programmes. I don’t take a TV guide so this can make me aware of one of their programmes I like watching. However, these “adverts” happen between programmes, not during them, so I can watch an item all the way through without interruption. Whereas with commercial networks the programme is constantly broken up.

Has anyone noticed if you flick through the channels on your remote to see a glimpse of other programmes how often you always land on them when adverts are being shown. 🙁

Malcolm I have a guide button on my remote that displays forthcoming programs for up to about 3 days. Just seen the sad news Dame Vera .Lynn has died age 103.

Wow! John: that must set a record for the longest gap between post and response. It seems it took you almost ten years to post a response to Alfa’s comment. 🙂

I wonder what prompted John to pick up on this Convo? A pertinent comment. I presume many programmes made by the BBC are structured so they can be sold and viewed on commercial channels, like Really, Yesterday, Dave, Quest, with provision for adverts.

Yes, Ian, I have only just woken up. The interesting thing is that we are both still here.

This was prompted by the Conversation on Fraud Fortnight where the first four comments [by Alfa, Malcolm r, Wavechange and me] were from people who have been together here for getting on for ten years. We still can’t get no satisfaction.

Beryl, so does my programme guide. However, with well over 100 channels and each probably 12 programmes a day on average that is a tedious search. As I like BBC programmes I’m happy for their prompts. I am selective about what and when to watch so don’t worry if I miss something, certainly not when I have something more constructive to do.

One of the reasons I like BBC Radio 4 is that there is not much advertising, and the only time we have to put up with celebrities is on Desert Island Discs.

I have post Brexit concerns now that we have a new political administration and leader with right wing inclinations that could influence and suppress the news on BBCTV. It’s important, I think, to recognise the financial and economic global trade interdependence of each country and keep an open mind on events as and when they happen.

The recent government mishandling of COVID-19 is just one example of how some other countries managed to keep the number of casualties down while politicians here, guided by scientific advice? argued about the efficacy of face masks, now mandatory on all public transport.

PS: The Edit facility seems to have disappeared?

I looked back at some of the earlier Convos recently and it’s interesting to see how some views have changed and others have remained the same. I’m waiting for John to respond to some. of my early posts.

No sign of right wing inclinations on Today, Newsnight, Question Time etc…….

WHO changed their recommendations on face masks.

We have had conflicting “scientific” advice and models describing the way the virus spreads. I sometimes wonder whether those brought in to comment on policy have axes to grind, like to compete with their peers, have the benefit of hindsight, are disaffected politicians, and so forth. But those are probably uncharitable thoughts.

Not much changes.😬

Mais plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Being older than some of your contributors I remember when the only adverts were on Radio Luxemburg and life was a lot beter then. People were not so envious or acquisative. Children actually read books!! Christmas was not all about presents, Sunday was a quite day. Adverts have caused a lot of problems and created a lot of really junk television. Keep the licence fee.

The BBC is not perfect but compared to most of the commercial channel programmes it is wonderful and there is the radio as well, especially the news programmes. Just imagine watching the childish and patronising channel 5 every evening AND having to suffer the deceits and cons of the adverts. I’ll pay the licence fee happily and with thanks.